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Daily Dose

Vapor Rubs: Do They Really Work?

1:15 to read

There was a great article recently published in the online journal of Pediatrics.  I had to read it as it was titled, “Vapor Rub, Petrolatum, or No Treatment for Nocturnal Cough”.  Having been a fan of both Vick’s Vapor Rub and Mentholatum since I was a child, I knew it was a MUST read article.

You can ask all of my family members, once we hit cough and cold season, the “vapor rub” jar goes next to my bed to help me during my frequent colds (see previous posts!).  I have such fond memories of being with my grandmother, Gaga, who at the first sign of a cold,  would rub Vicks all over my chest, which was then occluded by a warm damp CLEAN dishtowel, then followed by my flannel nightgown.  She would lovingly tuck me into bed, and shut the door and the whole room smelled like camphor, and menthol.   To me it was wonderful, my brother hated it!! As I grew older, my mother would hear me sniffle or blow my nose and down the hall she would come with the trusty Vick’s jar for self-application. Once I became a mother, in the family tradition, I too would rub a little Vick’s on my children’s chest, with no basis on medical fact, only what Gaga did. Funny thing, we all seemed to get better.

Two of my own children grew to despise the tradition, while one still asks for Vick’s or Mentholatum when he gets a cold.  There are old jars all over the house. I even bought several of the “plug ins” to use during cold season, which are the new fangled way to get that wonderful VR aroma into the room. They make a great stocking stuffer! So, with that history, what could be better than a study out of Penn State University that looked at the use of vapor rub (VR) to improve cold symptoms and nighttime cough.  With the recent FDA guidelines which limit the use of OTC cough and cold products in young children, many parents are at a loss as to what to do to help their child’s cold symptoms. The investigators looked at 138 children between the ages of 2 – 11 years. They were randomized to receive vapor rub (VR), petrolatum alone or no therapy.  Parents were then asked to grade their child’s symptoms and sleep on Day 1 when none of the children received therapy, and then again on Day 2 when they were randomized to therapy. 

The VR group scored best in improving cough, congestion and overall sleep for the children (and therefore their parents). This is the first evidence based therapeutic trial that I am aware of, for a remedy that is over a century old. As noted in the article, there were some irritant effects seen in the VR group with complaints of a stinging sensation to eyes, nose and or skin (I can hear my own children saying “it’s stingy”). Most of these complaints were transient in nature.  Despite older concerns about camphor when it was used as an oil that could cause possible toxicity if swallowed, skin exposure alone really has little systemic effect.   The FDA has approved camphor as an effective anti-cough preparation (anti-tusssive), but has limited concentrations to 11%. The concentration in VR is 4.8%. So, if parent’s are trying to improve nighttime cough and sleep disturbance in their children over the age of 2, there is a study to show it is time to go back to vapor rub preparations.  The mechanism for improved sleep is not really known, but whether it improves cold symptoms directly or through the aromatic effects, a better night’s sleep is good for everyone!!!  Could there be coupons to follow?

That's your daily dose for today.  We'll chat again tomorrow. Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

Daily Dose

Cough Medicine Alert

Should the FDA limit cough medicines for kids?With cough and cold season already here and only getting worse as winter arrives, many parents are asking whether they should use over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold preparations. There are many studies that show that these products really do not help treat the common cold. On top of that they may actually have adverse effects when used in children and there have even been deaths reported due to inappropriate dosing of these medications.

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend using OTC cold remedies in children under six and the FDA says not to use in children under two. There are so many products out there and most contain the same ingredients causing even more confusion for parents. The longer I practice, as well as taking care of my own children, I agree that these medicines really don't do much of anything for a cold. The best medicine still seems to be the tried and true remedies of rest, fluids, nasal saline irrigation and a box of kleenex. So....throw away any leftover cough and cold preps and get ready for winter with your latest recipe for chicken noodle soup. That's your daily dose. We'll chat tomorrow.

Daily Dose

Medicine Dosing Errors

1:30 to read

How do you give your baby/toddler/child their medications? In a recent article in Pediatrics it was found that up to 80 percent of parents have made a dosing error when administering liquid medicine to their children.  The study looked at children eight years old or younger. 

 

In the study both English and Spanish speaking parents were asked to measure different amounts of liquid medicines using different “tools”, including a dosing cup, and different sized syringes. They also were given different instructions with either text only or text with pictures. The different dosing tools were labeled with either milliliters/teaspoon or milliliters only.  Lots of variables! 

 

Not surprising to me, the parents who used the texts/picture combination instructions and who also used the milliliter only labeled dosing tools had the lowest incidence of dosing errors.  When parents had to use any math skills to calculate the correct dosage there were more dosing errors.  Most dosing errors were also overdosing rather than under-dosing the liquid medications.

 

This was an important article not only for parents to realize that it is not uncommon to make an error when giving their child medication, but also for doctors who write the prescriptions.  Before electronic medical records and “e-prescribing” I would typically write medication instructions in milliliters and teaspoons…in other words “take 5ml/1 tsp by mouth once daily”.  With electronic record you can only make one dosing choice which I now do in milliliters. But, with that being said, I still get phone calls from parents asking “how many teaspoons is 7.5 ml?”.

 

Previous studies have also shown numerous dosing errors when parents use kitchen teaspoons and tablespoons to try and measure their child’s medication. 

 

Some over the counter drug makers have tried to cut down on dosing errors with their liquid medications by making all of their products, whether for infants or children, the same strength. The only difference is the dosing tool that accompanies the medicine (syringe vs cup).  Interestingly, these medications may have a price difference when they are actually the same thing.  

 

This study may help to find strategies for comprehensive labeling/dosing for pediatric liquid medications, which will ultimately reduce errors.  Stay tuned for more!

 

 

 

 

 

Daily Dose

Airborne & Your Kids

1.45 to read

It’s cold & flu season and I have already been receiving emails from parents asking what works/doesn’t work.  I reviewed a recent note from a well-meaning dad asking if he could give his 3 year old son Airborne to help “offset colds”. 

I myself have just recovered from my first cold of the “season” and have looked high and low for ANYTHING that might prevent or treat the common cold. As I tell my own patients on a daily basis, if I had the “magic pill” I would certainly not only manufacture it to distribute to everyone, but I would also be getting ready to accept Nobel Prize in medicine for solving the mystery of preventing the common cold!!  Airborne is NOT the magic potion and I see no reason to use it period.

I recently did an extensive review of complementary and alternative medicine for the common cold (selfishly trying to cure myself) and once again came up empty handed for any proven remedies. There are still a lot of ongoing studies (someone will win the Nobel Prize one day), but nothing so far has really proven to be the panacea.

Many people “swear” by Airborne.  I am just not sure what they are thinking it does. If you read their website it states, “there are scientific studies that the ingredients in Airborne have been shown to support the immune system”. I can’t find those studies anywhere. 

In 2008 a class action suit against Airborne resulted in a $23 million dollar fine for “misleading consumers and making false claims”, when Airborne claimed to “ward off colds”. They have now changed their advertising to the wording, “boosting the immune system” which also seems like deceptive advertising to me. Regardless, they continue to make millions (despite that huge fine).  My mother even called to say she thought she might take some before flying to visit at Thanksgiving asking, “did I think that would help her from getting sick?” OMG!

The ingredients in Airborne include Zinc, ginger, Echinacea, vitamins, minerals, and herbs.  This is what I commonly call “hocus pocus”.  Many of the ingredients in Airborne have been studied for use during a cold, without a lot of success.  Zinc is still being studied with varying outcomes, but there are still no definitive guidelines on using Zinc for a cold. Stay tuned for more as more studies are completed.

In the meantime, the answer to the email is NO; I would not give a 3 year old Airborne. What I would do is make sure that your child is getting nutritious meals, adequate sleep and that they learn to wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough (hand hygiene). I would put the money you would spend on Airborne in their piggy bank for future college expenses.   I would also make sure to get your child their Flu vaccine. We do have data that vaccines work!

That’s’ your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Daily Dose

Codeine & Children

1:30 to read

I order to keep us all safe, the FDA is constantly monitoring drugs and their side effects.  For many years codeine was prescribed for children for pain relief as well as to suppress coughs.  Over the last few years there has been more and more discussion about limiting the use of narcotics in children, but I continue to see some children who come from seeing other physicians and have received a prescription that contains codeine.

 

The FDA just issued new warnings against using prescription codeine in children and adolescents. The FDA reviewed adverse event reports from the past 50 years and found reports of severe breathing problems and 24 deaths linked to codeine in children and adolescents. Genetic variation in codeine metabolism may lead to excessive morphine levels in some children.

 

The FDA also performed a literature review which noted excessive sleepiness and breathing problems, including one death, in breast-fed infants whose mothers used codeine.

 

Due to these findings the FDA is now recommending that “codeine should not be used for pain or cough in children under 12 years of age”. They have also issued a warning that codeine should not be used in adolescents aged 12-18 “who are obese or have conditions associated with breathing problems, such as obstructive sleep apnea or severe lung disease”. In retrospect, codeine was prescribed to more than 800,000 children younger than11 years in 2011. Amazingly, codeine is currently available in over-the-counter cough medicines in 28 states.  

 

Lastly, the FDA “strengthened the warning” regarding codeine and breast feeding. They now recommend that breast- feeding women do not use codeine…which may change the post delivery pain protocol. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (Ibuprofen) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) are preferred and are effective for mild to moderate postpartum pain. As a pediatrician it is important that I discuss this with new breast-feeding mothers as well. 

Daily Dose

Antibiotics

1:30 to read

Fall is here and winter is just around the corner, which will usher in another “sick season”. I am already thinking about illness as I just finished reading a JAMA article about the overuse of antibiotics.  Did you know that the CDC estimates that “30% of antibiotic prescriptions in the U.S. are unnecessary”? 

The CDC reported that the majority of these misused antibiotics were prescribed for viral upper respiratory infections including the common cold, bronchitis and sinus and ear infections.  Which gets me back to “sick season” and the busy pediatric office.

Parents frequently bring their child in for one of the many viral upper respiratory infections that a child has, especially in the first 5 years of life, and “assume” that they will receive an antibiotic. In fact, I am still amazed that with all of the news about “superbugs” and emerging antibiotic resistance, some parents continue to “push” for a antibiotic because their child has had a fever, cough and runny nose for several days.  

The head of the CDC recently stated, “antibiotics are lifesaving drugs and if we continue down the road of inappropriate use, we will lose the most powerful tool we have to fight life threatening infections”.  In other words, we doctors need to be very judicious when deciding to prescribe an antibiotic and patients need to ask questions as to the necessity for taking an antibiotic.  It seems much too often I hear a parent say to me, “I am sick as well, so I went to the doctor who gave me an antibiotic for my cough and congestion, why aren’t you going to give an antibiotic to my child?”.  They often follow this statement with, “I felt so much better after being on an antibiotic for several days….”, but I actually think many of them felt better as they were getting better on their own and not due to the antibiotic.

In this JAMA article it was noted that “prescribing rates were highest in children age 2 years and younger. (who also get the most viral URI’s in a year) . There were also distinctions in prescribing practices by region of the country with the West having a lower rate of antibiotic prescribing than the South. 

So…looking forward to “sick season” I may be quoting this JAMA article when I once again explain to a parent, or a child….that their fever, cough and cold is due to a virus and that there is not the need for an antibiotic. In fact, a parent might want to boast, “my child has never been on an antibiotic”...which is a good thing. Save the prescription for a time when it is really warranted, and at the same time “pay it forward” by helping to prevent even more antibiotic resistance in this country.

Daily Dose

How to Swallow a Pill

1:15 to read

I have always been a proponent of teaching children to swallow a pill.  In fact, I think I taught my boys to swallow a pill before they were 5 years old, mainly because I was tired of trying to find the measuring cup or syringe for the liquid medicine, which often didn’t go down “like spoon full of sugar”, even though we would sing the song during dosing. 

By the time one child had learned to swallow a pill the other two boys, as competitive as they were, decided that they too could do it, even the 2 year old.  So, based on that experience I have been encouraging young patients to swallow pills, and even teaching them in the office with my stash of mini M&M’s and Tic Tacs!  I also know that if you wait too long it becomes a huge ISSUE.

Well, who knew that someone would actually study “pediatric pill swallowing”?  In an article just published in the May issue of Pediatrics the authors looked at different pill swallowing interventions.  They found that up to 50 % of children were unable to swallow a pill.   Problems swallowing pills included a variety of reasons including fear, anxiety and intolerance to unpleasant flavors. 

The authors reviewed 5 articles published since 1987 which found that behavioral therapy, flavored throat sprays, specialized pill cups and verbal instruction with correct head and tongue positioning all helped children to swallow pills. They also found that pill swallowing training as “young as 2 years helped increase the likelihood of ease of pill swallowing”.

So, like many things....jump in with your young child and master the art of pill swallowing sooner than later. It will make everyone’s life easier.

Last caveat, I always tell my patients who are older “non-pill” swallowers, “you cannot possibly operate a motor vehicle if you can’t swallow a pill”! This is usually a huge motivator for the “late swallower” and they conquer the challenge. 

Daily Dose

Asthma

1:30 to read

May is Asthma Awareness Month and I am certainly seeing many patients whose asthma and wheezing is getting the best of them right now. With all of the major weather changes across the country, pollen counts through the roof, and upper respiratory viruses still circulating, there are quite a few triggers to set off wheezing.

 

Asthma is a chronic lung disease and affects more than 6 million children in the United States. Asthma causes wheezing and chest tightness in some, while it may only cause nighttime cough and cough with exercise in others. There is not one single presentation to asthma and the diagnosis is best made with a good history and physical exam.  Although asthma is a chronic disease you may only have attacks when something is bothering your lungs (triggers).

 

The biggest challenge I see as a pediatrician is teaching both parents and children to recognize their triggers and to know what their medications are. Every patient should have an asthma action plan, but in some cases, a child may have only wheezed once..and their parents received an inhaler or a nebulizer but really does not know what to do if their child wheezes again.

 

If your child has wheezed before, and you have a family history of wheezing, your child has a greater chance of wheezing again.  You should have a discussion with your pediatrician about how to recognize wheezing in your child. At the same time, if you have ever received a medication for wheezing, make sure you know the name or names of the medication. I see many parents who come in to the office and they may have been seen at an ER or urgent care when they were noted to be wheezing. They received an “inhaler”, but the parent has no clue as to the name of the inhaler (they may say, “it is blue”), and they don’t understand how the medications work.

 

The two points I try to make with every patient I see with wheezing:  

#1  Know the names of the medications that you have

#2  Know what the medications do

 

There are two issues with asthma, lung inflammation and broncho spasm (narrowing of the airways). So…there are two medications commonly used to treat these issues.  Inhaled steroids (there are tons of brands) are used as a preventative and decrease inflammation, while albuterol (again tons of brands) is a broncho-dilator and opens up the narrowed airways.  I see too many patients that bring in a bag full of medications, from numerous doctors and still don’t understand what their medications are used for, when to use them and that several of their inhalers, while having different names, are actually the same medicine.

 

Lastly, children with divorced parents need to have inhalers available at both homes. I think it is too complicated to try and have parents hand the inhaler or medication back and forth and think they will not forget or lose the medication.  Ask your doctor to have meds for both houses.

Seeing that is is Asthma Awareness month, get your medications out and make sure that they are not expired and if you don’t understand how or when to use them, make an appointment with your pediatrician and get an asthma action plan in place. Be prepared!  

Daily Dose

Cough and Cold Medicine

1:30 to read

My husband has a cold (I have been fortunate not to have one) and he decided he needed some over the counter (OTC) “cold medicine”, despite the fact that I told him they don’t work!  At any rate, I stayed in the car while he went in to buy “some things.”  It wasn’t too long before he was back empty handed…..and asking for some help in deciding what to buy!  It seems that he was overwhelmed and confused by all of the different choices….so I thought this was a good time to review all of the “ingredients” in OTC cough/cold medications. But remember, OTC cough and cold products are not recommended AT ALL for children under the age of 4. 

Most of the products that are advertised and sold for treating coughs and colds contain either a decongestant, antihistamine, expectorant, or anti-jussive (for cough).  But many of the OTC medicines contain some combination of these ingredients and there are many similar products with different brand names. Just gazing at the row of choices is enough to confuse anyone….even a doctor.

The most common decongestant used in OTC products is phenylephrine but its effectiveness in reducing nasal congestion from the common cold has been inconclusive. Another decongestant, pseudo ephedrine (Sudafed) is available, but has become restricted (it is a precursor in the manufacturing of methapmphetamine) and is now found behind the counter. Both of these drugs are often found in combination with other ingredients.

Antihistamines are also in many products. First generation antihistamines include diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and chlorpheniramine and are known for their tendency to be sedating. Second generation non sedating antihistamines such as loratadine (Claritin), fexofenadine (Allegra) and cetirizine (Zyrtec) are also found in some preparations ( typically with wording “daytime”) and are not sedating. In either case antihistamines do not seem to help the common cold.  Antihistamines do help allergies which are histamine mediated while a cold is not.

Anti-tussives or cough suppressants are commonly found in OTC cold medications, as cough is one of the most irritating aspects of a cold.  Dextromethorphan acts on the cough center in the brain to suppress coughing. It is the main ingredient in many OTC cough syrups but may also be found in many cough and cold combos in either liquid or pill form.

Guaifenesin is an expectorant and is found in many products, but again has not been found to have a measurable effect on mucous production from a cold.

Lastly, there are many products that are advertised to help with the “aches and pains” of a cold including acetaminophen and ibuprofen which may be found in combination with some of the above ingredients.

So…you have to read labels and make sure you “know” what you are getting. Too many people do not realize that they may be taking the same medicine but with different brand names, and this could cause an overdose.  

But the take home message is that “we” spend billions of dollars on these OTC products with continued studies showing minimal if any effect on the common cold when compared to placebo!  

I would spend my money on some Vicks, honey, and chicken soup and forgo the confusion on the cough and cold aisle.

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